Is online therapy real?

You are struggling and you know you want some help. Being comfortable living online, your first thought is “can I get help online?” You know it will be easier and save you time commuting. But after some searching and discussions in social media, you are more confused than before. You see computerised-CBT , therapy-bots, and articles in popular psychology magazines stating that online therapy is not as good as the real thing. You are left wondering, is online therapy even real?

The reason for this is because there is now so much choice and variety, that everyone is talking at cross-purposes. You are asking about connecting with a real person who provides online therapy, and they are telling you how invalidating they found an automated program, or big impersonal agency. Let’s have a look at the different options:

  • A real person. A genuine, qualified, regulated therapist who provides sessions via videocall (e.g. Zoom, Skype, FaceTime). These are real people, they have all the necessary qualifications and training and are comfortable providing this service online. They may have their own website, or you may find them through a referral platform. Being independent they will often have more choice about the approaches they follow and freedom to be sensitive to your specific needs.
  • Therapy referral/marketing platforms. These are organisations that list details of real, individual therapists for a fee paid by the therapist. They are much more visible than the small businesses of the individual therapists, because of their marketing. For example, if you search for “an online therapist” these are the main posts you will see. (In fact making it quite hard to find the small, personal businesses). Examples include: Psychology Today, Harley Therapy, CBT Clinics, Betterhelp. Some charge therapist to be members, some take a proportion of the fee (maybe as much as 50% of what you pay goes to the referral platform, not your therapist). Many of these platforms verify your therapists qualifications. Some don’t.
  • Therapy subscriptions. Some organisations offer therapy subscriptions, where you pay a set amount per month for a pre-agreed amount of contact. Some let you text a therapist every day, some are to cover set appointments. Betterhelp and Talkspace are examples.
  • Online therapy courses. These are structured courses that you work through by yourself.
  • Computerised-therapy. These are automated, text-based services, where the responses are delivered by computer-bots.
  • Manualised-therapy with a therapy agency. There are some large agencies who employ or contract real therapists to deliver structured therapy, by the book. These therapies tend to be selected as evidenced-based (helpful in a percentage of cases).

All of these options have their uses, and issues, … it really does depend on what you need. So, in answer to the question: Online therapy can be a real connection, with a real person who is qualified and experienced to help you. But it is not always. How you find that real therapist is a different issue.

Dr Laura Walton, is a UK registered Clinical Psychologist (a real therapist) who is qualified to provide consultation and psychological therapy, via online videocall. For more details, visit the main page and make a request.